How Dublin City University and Catalyst adapted online learning solutions in the face of changing demands

Recognised as a champion of social mobility, Dublin City University has been named The Sunday Times University of the Year for 2021

Dublin City University is passionate about open source, as part of their university ethos. They are strong advocates for open education resources and this was a strong contributory factor in their decision to work with Catalyst. Prior to the forming of our partnership, Catalyst and Dublin City University (DCU) had collaborated on various open source projects to develop and enhance learning platforms including Moodle and Mahara e-portfolio, sharing back to the upstream projects so as to enable others to benefit in the true spirit of open source.

The challenge

DCU was looking for a new hosting partner with Moodle expertise; an authentic partner to fully support their online education initiatives and to attain their business goals by delivering a close, collaborative partnership to drive the online learning platform forward.

The university had experienced the frustrations and disruptions of hosting issues and lack of specific Moodle expertise with their previous hosting provision – being simply platform-as-a-service. Balancing the various unresolved issues, with the scale and burden of managing Moodle within the university – strong and robust support for the VLE became an increasing concern.

Catalyst and DCU forged a managed services partnership in the summer of 2019, moving the Moodle platform onto the university-owned cloud infrastructure using Catlayst’s fully containerised and scalable architecture design.

From the onset of COVID-19, DCU has growing numbers of staff and students accessing the LMS (now numbering over 18,000). Expectations of high quality and successful online provision are rising significantly in line with this new and increased demand.

“A robust VLE is now more than ever business critical to our institution” – Mark Glynn, head of teaching enhancement unit, DCU

The solution

DCU started working with Catalyst in 2019.

The initial project plan included 87 customised pieces of Moodle functionality for the growing network of over 18,000 students. Catalyst responded with a concise and proven project plan and a flexible, agile project management approach.  The implementation of a suitable cloud architecture, along with the move of the Moodle application was delivered on time and on budget with all stakeholders noting a positive project experience throughout.

Unique challenges – such as solutions for user, account and grade data integrations – were solved, with close working partnerships being forged between Catalyst cloud and Moodle experts and those similar experts at DCU.

“Catalyst are truly exceptional in their response and efficiency – a robust company to work with and a ‘can-do’ attitude – we can’t speak highly enough of them” Mark Glynn, head of teaching enhancement unit, DCU


COVID-19: a new challenge for online assessment

As COVID-19 rapidly took hold and lockdown began in Ireland, DCU put the partnership to the test and requested a suitable e-assessment solution for 11,820 exams to be delivered via the Moodle VLE for over 7,000 unique students/exams, with a period of only five weeks to prepare.

E-assessment solution

Catalyst had experience with such challenges and a ready-made e-assessment solution to achieve this. They rapidly presented a plan and delivery approach that met the needs and delivered confidence to the stakeholders at DCU. The preparation of the e-assessment system went smoothly and, as required, DCU delivered the exam programme without any issues; 1,200 concurrent examinations were achieved (using a model which could have increased to support 4,000 students taking an exam at any one time). Both assignment upload and multiple choice question methods were used.

Academic integrity

DCU has devised a 12-point framework for Academic Integrity Principles, giving advice on robust assessment strategies and their design. DCU worked on question and examination design to ensure integrity, security and the minimisation of plagiarism for e-assessment. DCU believe in being proactive with students, staff and the institution at large. There are policies and supports in place with a positive technical infrastructure. DCU take advantage of great resources such as those produced by Jisc for assessment design. These fully support staff and grant them freedom to be innovative with assessment and course design. An example of this is the option of a pre-recorded video uploaded to the VLE, rather than an ‘in class’ presentation.


DCU is not only flying the flag for e-assessment, but removing barriers and unlocking the potential for more and more non-traditional students to have a university education (23% of intake constitutes non-traditional, access students). Online learning has positively contributed to accessibility for these students and facilitates real flexibility.

“Our VLE is one of the most important, mission critical systems in the university so it is critical students and staff have a robust system. We needed a platform and hosting partner that is adaptable and dynamic, as our learning and teaching is not static and will continue to adapt and change.

“We have benefited from being part the Catalyst family and the community that brings, the sharing of content, expertise, and best practice” Mark Glynn, head of teaching enhancement unit, DCU

Find out more about fully managed e-learning solutions in the cloud from Catalyst

Classrooms as we knew them are gone

Education Technology and University Business recently hosted an expert panel discussion with guests from Catalyst, Centre for Learning and Teaching, and Cambridge Judge Business School, on what student experience means post-pandemic, what we’ve learned about digital provision, and how to cater for students that only want to learn online, while still providing first-class blended learning for students that want the full campus experience.

Stream here on-demand:

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